Lawyer Selection: Tips for Avoiding Ineffective Lawyers


Retaining an effective lawyer is really no different than any other type of shopping. Take your time. Do your research. Weigh your options. Ensure clear communication. Develop a comprehensive understanding concerning pricing and services to be delivered. This is your legal situation and your lawyer needs to thoroughly appreciate the importance, and expenses, of it.


Choosing the right lawyer to represent you in court or otherwise is imperative - not only for the maximization of your potential settlement, but also for your very peace of mind. Here are some helpful tips that will ensure that you choose the most effective lawyer available for your individual situation:


How to avoid choosing a lame lawyer:


1.      Thorough Research. Retaining an attorney may be one of the more important business transactions that you will ever engage in. Lawyers are service providers. Compare their experience and prices just like you would compare options for any other important decision.

2.      Look For a Specialist. Just like you don't go to a general practitioner for brain surgery, you don't retain generalized legal representation for specialized legal proceedings. There are many types of law situations and you need to select a lawyer that fits your bill. Practice of law is very specialized today. Tax or criminal attorneys typically know very little about immigration and vice versa. You don't want to end up in a situation that requires specific litigation techniques and find that your lawyer lacks them.

3.      Make Use of Free Consultations. Many attorneys offer the initial consultation for free or for a nominal fee. Make use of it to hear multiple legal opinions on your matter. Lawyers offer free consultation to get a chance to bid for your business; let them do it as it will allow you to select the best option.

4.      Evaluate Their Communication Style. Your potential attorney should put you at ease and instill confidence, enthusiasm and direction. Observe how the phone at their office is manned and how promptly the messages are returned. Do their responses sound clear and professional or ambiguous and confusing? You want to find an attorney who can provide solidly-professional service, not the one who would be missing deadlines and prove incapable of communicating issues clearly to you, the judge, or other parties involved.

5.      Be Dispassionate. Many legal scenarios strike up emotional responses that can be very counterproductive. Some attorneys are better than others on being or appearing sympathetic to your situation. While emotional empathy is an important factor, don’t let it become an overriding factor. Evaluate attorneys with intentional calm. If possible, go slow, don’t make rushed on-the-spot choices.

6.      Experience Matters. Practice of law often differs greatly from theories found in law books and from mock trials in a law school. For important cases, you need a lawyer with experience - not a newbie fresh out of school.

7.      Use Best Evaluation Tools. Explore further than the local Yellow Pages when searching for your lawyer. Google the lawyers who made your short list, see what kind of feedback you can find. Use or other websites where clients post feedback on their attorneys. Check records of the Bar Association which the attorney belongs to, to see for sure if there’s record of sanctions against the attorneys you are considering.

8.      Evaluate The Retainer Agreement. Make certain that you fully comprehend the fee arrangement that is proposed. Never fear to ask very direct questions about compensation. If you have any doubts, boldly address them - and then get the answers in clear, descriptive writing. Never sign your name on the dotted line in an unsure state of mind.

9.      Discuss The Scope of Representation. Make sure that you develop a comprehensive understanding as to exactly what will be done for you by your lawyer. For example, some attorneys will handle the case at trial level but wouldn’t handle the appeal as they lack experience with appellate courts. Immigration or tax attorneys often handle cases in administrative courts but won’t handle appeals in federal district courts.  

10.  Demand Timely and Meaningful Updates. From the beginning, let your lawyer know exactly what you expect in terms of communication. Let him or her know that you have no interest in wondering what is happening; that you expect prompt, regular updates of any and all developments - even if they don't seem that important to the attorney. Your lawyer deals with the courts every day; you may once or twice in your life. You are the employer. You have the right to fully understand the processes that are to affect your life before they are happening. Your lawyer should always consult you and keep you at the helm of the loop of knowledge concerning your case.

11.  Seek A Second Opinion. If you feel that the attorney is not doing a good job for you, seek a second opinion, just like you’d seek a second medical opinion in a complicated treatment. Such consultation will not usually cost much money, but will give you a better understanding of the situation.  Don’t automatically accept criticism by another attorney as evidence of malpractice by the first attorney; often it’s just a matter of differing opinions. Many cases allow for different strategies.

12.  Evaluate Lawyer’s Resources. Some cases can be so involved that they may stretch the recourses of a solo practitioner or a small firm to a breaking point. If the other side files numerous motions, does your attorney have resources to do all necessary research and prepare professional responses by the deadline? Ask your lawyer what resources he or she can rely on in such situations.

13.  Big Firm or Small Firm? Is it better to be a small client for a large law firm or an important client for a solo practitioner? It depends on the case. If the case may require involvement of attorneys with knowledge of different aspects of law, you may be better off with a firm that has this expertise in-house.

14.  Research the Issues. If the matter is important to you, read the statute and case law on the matter. A wealth of information can be easily found for free on the Internet or in local law libraries. Such research will not make you a lawyer, but will help you better understand the issues involved.


Needless to say, many of the above tips are for complex and important cases. If you need assistance in a very simple matter, you won’t have to spend as much time shopping for an attorney as in cases which are of utmost importance to you.